New Delhi: This year’s Coal India Hockey India League (HIL) will be a special edition for Junior Indian team’s forward Ajit Kumar Pandey who will be making his debut. He has been selected by the defending Champions Jaypee Punjab Warriors led by star Indian midfielder Sardar Singh.
For 21-year-old Pandey, whose father works as a driver, playing in the Coal India HIL is not just an opportunity to rub shoulders with the best in the hockey world but it has also provided a channel to rid his financial status back home in Karampur, a village in Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh. Ajit Kumar Pandey was auctioned for USD 41,000 by Jaypee Punjab Warriors, a sum he says will help his family build a home. “Until now we didn’t have a house of our own. I come from a poor family and have five sisters and one brother. I am the youngest of them. Growing up, I have seen my family struggle financially but now with the Coal India HIL money, I know I can help my family live a comfortable life,” explains Pandey, who works as a clerk in the Indian Railways (South Central division).
“No one in my family ever expected that I would be able to earn so much money through hockey but it’s a reality today and everyone at home is very excited for me,” adds the India forward who scored a swashbuckling goal against Canada in the pool matches at the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016 in Lucknow.
Ajit’s father Jai Prakash works as a driver for local bigwig Tej Bahadur Singh in Ghazipur. Singh was the one to help Ajit pick up hockey when he was studying in school. It was on the insistence of Tej Bahadur Singh that Ajit’s father enrolled him for hockey at the academy Singh had developed. “Tej Bahadur Singh is my guru and it was he who ensured I didn’t lack the support I needed to get better in hockey. He provided me with hockey sticks, shoes and whatever I needed to improve. Today, people in my village are happy with what I have achieved and winning the Junior World Cup in my home state is a matter of pride for everyone back home,” Ajit says. "After I got auctioned, people back in my village have started to believe that one can make a career out of hockey just like in cricket," he adds.
Jaypee Punjab Warriors play their first match on 27 January against Dabang Mumbai. Ajit is eager to make most of this experience and says he had waited for this opportunity for long. “I made my debut for the Indian junior team in 2016 and my first India camp was in 2014. I was really hoping to get a chance to play in the Coal India HIL and now that I have received that opportunity, I would really like to make the most of it and justify my worth,” he says.